Pro­cy­cling goes be­hind the scenes at the UCI’s flag­ship project, the WCC

Procycling - - Contents - Writer: Paul Rob­son Por­trait: Joolze Dy­mond

There is no greater val­i­da­tion of a project like the UCI's World Cy­cling Cen­tre than to have an alum­nus win the Tour de France. We look in­side the fa­cil­ity that set Froome on his way

The UCI has had many bad ideas through the years,” Chris Froome once said. “But the World Cy­cling Cen­tre was not one of them. For the first time I was part of a proper team set-up: bikes, kit, a room to our­selves, velo­drome, gym and a can­teen for all our meals,” he re­mem­bered of his time at the Cen­tre in 2007.

While the space-age, sil­ver ed­i­fice of the WCC and UCI HQ in Aigle, nes­tled at the foot of the Alps in French-speak­ing Switzer­land, hints at typ­i­cal sport gov­ern­ing body hubris, step in­side and it quickly be­comes ob­vi­ous that the build­ing is ded­i­cated to sport, not pol­i­tics or power.

One corner of the com­plex is given over to the ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices of the UCI, where we will later meet pres­i­dent Brian Cook­son. But the vast ma­jor­ity houses the velo­drome, gym­na­sium and can­teen Froome refers to, as well as a BMX track, work­shop, chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties, re­lax­ation ar­eas, bike and kit stor­age and more for the groups of ath­letes that travel here from all four cor­ners of the globe in pur­suit of their cy­cling dreams.

“All you need is a bike, a track and a coach to reach your po­ten­tial as a cy­clist,” of­fers Bri­tish Olympic keirin sil­ver medal­list Ross Edgar, an alum­nus of the WCC and back as a coach when we vis­ited, “but some of the ath­letes com­ing here sim­ply don’t have ready ac­cess to those things, so this is a great en­vi­ron­ment to work in. It’s a beau­ti­ful train­ing fa­cil­ity, and an at­tempt to level the play­ing field be­tween rich and poor coun­tries.”


It’s a no­ble goal, and there is no doubt­ing the com­mit­ment of ev­ery­one at the WCC to­wards the aim of giv­ing tal­ented ath­letes from coun­tries with un­der­funded cy­cling fed­er­a­tions the op­por­tu­nity to ex­cel. And the cen­tre in Switzer­land is the fo­cal point of their mis­sion.

“The WCC is unique in sport at the mo­ment,” ex­plains the fa­cil­ity’s French di­rec­tor, Fréd Magné, a seven-time track world cham­pion, “although archery is start­ing to do the same thing now in

Lau­sanne. This was our vi­sion from 1995, so it’s been over 20 years in the mak­ing.”

High per­for­mance man­ager Belinda Tar­ling, a for­mer coach and ed­u­ca­tor at Bri­tish Cy­cling, takes up the story: “The WCC was built in 2002,” she says, “and it was a vi­sion to cre­ate a place where ath­letes could come to train and have ac­cess to the same fa­cil­i­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties as ath­letes from richer coun­tries.

“The pur­pose of the UCI is to pro­mote cy­cling in all coun­tries of the world and at all lev­els. At the top level, the way to get ath­letes to the Olympics, to get African rid­ers to the Tour de France, is to fol­low a path­way that starts with com­pe­ti­tion at na­tional level to iden­tify the best ath­letes, then gets those coun­tries and ath­letes to com­pete at in­ter­na­tional level, and then even­tu­ally gets more coun­tries com­pet­ing at World Cham­pi­onships and Olympic Games. It’s a long jour­ney but the role of the UCI and the WCC is to make it hap­pen.”

Driv­ing such an all-en­com­pass­ing mis­sion is a ded­i­cated team of just 32 at the WCC – “from the kitchen to the di­rec­tor’” says Belinda – but their in­flu­ence stretches to all cor­ners of the globe.

“Aigle is only one cen­tre,” ex­plains Belinda. “We can’t ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­one here and not ev­ery­one can get here ei­ther – there are some­times visa is­sues get­ting ath­letes to Switzer­land – so there are satel­lite cen­tres in Korea, Ja­pan, South Africa, Ar­gentina, In­dia and soon north Africa. Th­ese are great for tal­ent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and they are ac­ces­si­ble for ath­letes who can’t get to Switzer­land.

“We also work with Olympic Sol­i­dar­ity, which man­ages the money from the sales of Olympic tele­vi­sion rights. We’re talk­ing £450m, across all Olympic sports, and fed­er­a­tions can ap­ply for a share of that money to run a cy­cling course. We’ve re­cently sent ex­perts to Al­ba­nia, Cameroon, Le­banon… there are very few fed­er­a­tions we don’t touch be­cause there’s nowhere else for them to go.”


As many ath­letes as pos­si­ble do make it to Switzer­land, how­ever, and the dif­fer­ent groups will spend around six weeks at a time liv­ing and train­ing at the Cen­tre over a spell of up to three or four years. This re­quires se­ri­ous in­vest­ment, so the staff at the WCC have to be very thor­ough in se­lect­ing rid­ers who re­ally have the prom­ise to rise to the top.

Road coach Ale­jan­dro González ex­plains how the WCC’s tal­ent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gramme is be­ing honed with the help of UK com­pany Wat­tbike.

“We have our satel­lite cen­tres and ev­ery rider who comes here usu­ally passes through one of those cen­tres to be iden­ti­fied,” ex­plains Gonzáles. “The prob­lem we have had in the past was not hav­ing a stan­dard­ised test that we could run ev­ery­where but with Wat­tbike we knew we could come up with a pro­to­col that would be ef­fec­tive and quick to use at camps of 40 rid­ers or more. The pro­to­col lasts 18 min­utes, so if you have two bikes you can test 20 rid­ers in a day.

“From the fig­ures pro­duced in this test we have a good over­all un­der­stand­ing of the po­ten­tial of the rider. We can know if some­one is good enough to join our de­vel­op­ment teams.

“But we have other pa­ram­e­ters, too, so for our un­der-23 pro­gramme rid­ers need to be un­der 20, be­cause we will work with them over two or three years. The idea is

"The amount I learnt about how to train…things you don’t nec­es­sar­ily learn as a ju­nior, was in­cred­i­ble. Fréd Magné was my coach!"

that a rider can join us as a ju­nior and go all the way through our pro­gramme.”

The time the ath­letes do spend at the Cen­tre can be in­tense, fo­cus­ing not just on phys­i­cal train­ing but equip­ping them with the knowl­edge and skills to op­er­ate out­side the fa­cil­ity.

“The time I spent here as a rider was in­valu­able,” ex­plains Edgar. “I was here be­tween 2001 and 2004 – the Athens Olympics – and the amount I learnt about how to train, phas­ing train­ing, things you don’t nec­es­sar­ily learn as a ju­nior, was in­cred­i­ble. Fréd Magné was my coach! We want to equip th­ese ath­letes with that knowl­edge, so they are not al­ways re­liant on us, but can go back home and know what to do. We want this to be a school.

“All it takes is one tal­ented ath­lete to change a whole fed­er­a­tion. I be­lieve that, and I think the way Bri­tish Cy­cling pro­gressed dur­ing my time there and since shows what can hap­pen.”


Tar­ling takes up the ed­u­ca­tion theme as she ex­pands on the Cen­tre’s re­mit: “We see the WCC as a univer­sity of cy­cling, so we have to take a wide-rang­ing ap­proach to the sport. Yes, we train ath­letes but we also run cour­ses for coaches, so that knowl­edge can be spread into new coun­tries, for me­chan­ics, as there’s no point send­ing bikes some­where if there is no one who knows how to look af­ter them, and also rider agents and di­recteur sportifs.

“Year on year we are build­ing, and reach­ing more ath­letes. In 2014 we had 231 trainees: 143 ath­letes, 24 coaches, 42 DSs, 17 agents and five me­chan­ics. We are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter at man­ag­ing our re­sources. “It’s a great build­ing, a great en­vi­ron­ment and some­thing quite dif­fer­ent to what you’ll have seen at any na­tional fed­er­a­tion. We have ev­ery age group, skin colour and cy­cling dis­ci­pline to­gether. We don’t work for a fed­er­a­tion, we work for ev­ery­body.”

We later join UCI pres­i­dent Brian Cook­son in his of­fice for cof­fee and sug­gest that the WCC is ac­tu­ally the oft-ma­ligned ‘glob­al­i­sa­tion of cy­cling’ in ac­tion.

“I’m re­ally very proud to be as­so­ci­ated with the World Cy­cling Cen­tre. It’s a great fa­cil­ity,” he says. “It is no secret that I have not al­ways agreed with what my pre­de­ces­sor Hein Ver­bruggen brought to the sport but this is an achieve­ment of which he and the UCI can be rightly proud.

“Help­ing smaller na­tions to de­velop their rid­ers here is some­thing we’re very keen on but we can’t bring ev­ery promis­ing rider to Switzer­land, so we’re try­ing to de­velop our satel­lite cen­tres and re­source them bet­ter.

“There is great stuff go­ing on in Rwanda and Eritrea, for ex­am­ple. Sup­port­ing that in Africa and other con­ti­nents through the UCI is a great thing to do.

“I’ve been say­ing around the world that Great Bri­tain was a small na­tion in cy­cling – one Olympic gold medal in 76 years – un­til we got the right strat­egy, the right peo­ple and the right re­sources thanks to the Lot­tery, and then we got some suc­cess­ful ath­letes and things changed.

“But you need to build in the de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, and I of­ten use the ex­am­ple of Lizzie Deignan, who didn’t even own a bike un­til Bri­tish Cy­cling’s tal­ent team went to her school. 10 years later she was the world cham­pion. There are tal­ented ath­letes in ev­ery coun­try, and if you can find them and give them the right re­sources then they can thrive. But you have to go out and find them be­cause with all the other dis­trac­tions around, kids won’t al­ways come into the sport from the tra­di­tional routes.”

If ev­ery ergo-trainer, in the hands of a WCC-trained coach, is ef­fec­tively a tal­ent scout, then the task of find­ing rid­ers in hid­den places who can em­u­late Froome’s suc­cess be­comes eas­ier. The UCI comes in for a lot of jus­ti­fi­able crit­i­cism, but in the WCC, they have a project that has con­trib­uted to the good health of the sport.

Left to right: The WCC's di­rec­tor is Frédéric Magné, a for­mer keirin and tan­dem world cham­pion on the track. He over­sees one of the jew­els in the UCI crown: the velo­drome that is the beat­ing heart of the cen­tre

UCI pres­i­dent Brian Cook­son is a strong ad­vo­cate of the World Cy­cling Cen­tre and its work in poorer na­tions

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